US diplomats who got away with abuse
US double standards in diplomacy are common enough and pretty familiar to foreign office officials of countries which host embassies and consulates of
the US. But what might be not so well known are the specific cases of US diplomats not only underpaying their domestic help but also physically
abusing them, and how they got away lightly in most such cases.
In 2011, an Ethiopian national, Jan Doe, filed a case against American state department employee Linda Howard accusing her of forced labour,
involuntary servitude and human trafficking. Doe said that Linda Howard hired her during her assignment in the US embassy in Yemen. In late 2008, when
Howard was reassigned to Japan, Doe agreed to move with her and continue as her housekeeper. Her contract promised $300 a month, time off each week,
health insurance and a safe place to live and work.
However, in Japan, Doe was forced to work more than 80 hours a week for less than a dollar an hour. The minimum hourly wage at the time of Jane Doe's
employment was $6.55. Doe was even raped and forced to engage in sexual acts with Linda Howards's husband, Russell Howard, who threatened to deport
her. When she finally escaped and complained, Linda Howard was removed from her post in the US embassy in Tokyo but returned to the US and continued
to work for the state department.
By the time the Virginia court found the Howards guilty and awarded Doe over $3 million in damages in November last year, the Howards had fled the
country. No effort seems to have been made by the US to track down the Howards who committed felony on federal property.
In a similar case, in July 2006, Harold Countryman, a former state department agent, and his wife, Kimberly Countryman, a realtor in northern
Virginia, were found guilty of abetting visa fraud, forced labour and underpaying a Cambodian woman they had hired during their posting in South Korea
and brought to the US. Kimberly Countryman admitted that she withheld a portion of the woman's pay, took possession of her passport and physically
assaulted her. Though they had to pay the Cambodian woman $50,000 in restitution, Harold Countryman, the diplomat, only received probation. Visa fraud
carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000. The maximum sentence for involuntary servitude is a
40-year jail sentence.
In a much older case, in 1993, a US diplomat Thurmond Borden and his Filipino wife hired a domestic help from Manila offering to pay $300 to her to
work for them in Japan. To comply with Japanese immigration regulations, they made a contract stating that they would pay her $1,500 to work six days
a week for eight hours a day with overtime pay of 125%. The contract was submitted to both the US embassy and the Japanese immigration bureau.
Lucia found that she was forced to work from 6 am to 10 pm and not allowed to take a break even on Christmas or New Year. When she complained, her air
ticket and alien registration certificate were confiscated. Lucia managed to escape after complaining to the Japanese police. When she tried to sue
the Bordens, the US state department claimed diplomatic immunity for them and the Japanese legal system was forced to drop the case. Borden is now
consul general Jakarta where among others tasks he will also be responsible for issuing maid visas to domestic help for US diplomats headed for the
These and many other cases have been put together on a blog, The Dissenter, by Peter Van Buren. Van Buren is a former US foreign service employee who
turned whistle blower with his book criticizing American reconstruction efforts in Iraq. He now writes blogs and columns on American foreign policy
especially on the working of US consulates, embassies and the foreign office.